Do your summer family plans include visiting a United States historic site with your children? If not, perhaps it is time to rediscover a less-trodden path.
Although history presents a treasure trove of knowledge, visits to historical sites in the United States are decreasing. In fact, a study reported by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2016 found that “The percentage of people reporting at least one [historic site visitation] in the previous year fell by more than a third from 1982 to 2012, with declines across most age groups.
Statistics also show that the number of students pursuing a history major has declined more than for any other major.  Perhaps this to some extent reflects public education’s focus on encouraging Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (“STEM”) skills to prepare learners for the 21st Century job market. Moreover, over the past several years state testing has focused primarily on assessing mathematics and reading skills.
Although the study of History may seem to be on the educational “back burner” these days, it remains critical that today’s children — tomorrow’s leaders — have a deep understanding of their past and learn from the lessons it teaches. Visiting historic sites is an engaging way for parents to nurture our children’s appreciation and understanding of the past, as well as the experiences and perspectives of those from different cultural backgrounds.
If you are traveling “back in time” this summer, here are 8 suggestions to enrich your child’s understanding of history by maximizing your visits to historic places:
1). Explore the Website: Before visiting a historic site, check the website to find information about tours, maps, and special events that may be happening on the day of your visit. If pictures are available, take a virtual tour of the site with your child and ask him or her to identify points of interest for the visit. (See, for example, the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site – Collinsville, Illinois)
2). Visit the Library: Before your visit, shop the library for books about the site(s) you plan to explore on your adventure. Display the books in your home where your child can access them and read about the site. (Be creative and look for books from multiple genres: non-fiction, poems, fiction, and picture books that may talk about the place you are visiting.)
3). Bring Background Music: What music did the people who inhabited your site at the place and time enjoy/create? To enrich the experience, bring some relevant music along for the car ride!
4). Choose/Map Specific Points of Interest: Before visiting, show your child a map, book, or website about the site. Your child should pick 2-3 points of special interest to him/her. If there is a site map, be sure to ask your child to locate points of interest and use the map to find it when you are at the site.
5). Talk About Perspectives/Points of View: Frequently, a historic site will present events from a variety of perspectives/viewpoints that represent different cultures, roles, and socio-economic groups. Challenge your child to identify different perspectives represented at the site (for example child vs. adult; minority perspectives; socio-economic). Role play by having each family member take 30 minutes to view the site “in the shoes” of another person-(e.g. a woman who lived at the time, an indigenous inhabitant, a government leader, a child, an immigrant). Respectfully share your thoughts, revelations, and questions; this may open additional questions for your family/child to explore and research after the visit.
6). Encourage Questions: Have your child brainstorm several questions he/she may have about the historical site and choose 2-3 questions to answer on the visit. Your child should record these questions and look for the answers during your tour. With your supervision (and as appropriate), encourage your child to ask questions of tour guides/volunteers as needed to direct them to answers and/or collect additional information.
7). Try a Recipe: Research recipes from the time period and/or region of the historic site. (Sometimes recipes are available on site-for example in a pioneer village.) Try a recipe in your kitchen at home.
8). Keep a Travel Journal: Keep a family scrapbook of the historical sites that you have visited. Include maps of the sites, pictures, and notes about observations made on your visit. In the back of the journal, create a page of sites that are on your list to explore in the future.
*For historical sites to visit in Illinois, explore the Illinois Office of Tourism Website-Historic Sites in Illinois
[1 ]”Humanities Indicators,” American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Feb. 2016. Retrieved at https://www.humanitiesindicators.org/content/indicatordoc.aspx?i=101
 Schmidt, Benjamin, M.“The History BA Since the Great Recession.” Perspectives on History. The American Historical Association. November 26, 2018. Retrieved at: https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/december-2018/the-history-ba-since-the-great-recession-the-2018-aha-majors-report